TV — DOCTOR WHO
BY RACHEL DAY
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
US/UK Air Date: Saturday, September 12 2014
In Short: Don’t ask me, I’m too busy hiding behind the sofa from monsters under the bed…
Recommended: Hell, yes
CLARA: Fear makes companions of us all.
Steven Moffat returns to form in the fourth outing for the Twelfth Doctor (or really Thirteenth, but who’s counting?). “Listen” is a tremendously accomplished episode that combines the horrors of dating with the truly terrifying concept of monsters under the bed lurking in the dark silence of a house in nighttime. All the cast get to shine and there is a wonderfully sentimental visit to the Doctor’s own childhood that is simply the cherry on top of the fudge sundae that is this episode.
The entire story revolves around the singular question the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) poses: “Are we ever truly alone?” The Doctor is keen to solve the mystery of whether there is a species out there whose primary trait is hiding; hiding so well that it’s only in those moments when we awake with the surety that there’s something in the room with us that they reveal their presence.
Hooked up to Clara (Jenna Coleman), who is distracted by her first date disaster with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), the TARDIS uses a telepathic connection to her to set their course. The result is a rather crazy trip which ends with Clara getting her man, and the revelation – to the audience at least – about why the Doctor might have wanted to explore this particular question. It’s well written, well-constructed and all the threads neatly come together. After the rather disappointing opening episode, this feels like vintage Moffat.
Here the nods to the past are kept in check. Yes, we’re looking under the bed for monsters as in “The Girl in the Fireplace” (28.04) and visiting the end of the universe just as we did in “Utopia” (29.11), but this doesn’t feel like an attempt to reheat up old leftovers and offer them up as something new. Moreover, this episode challenges previous episodes such as “Blink” (29.10) for the title of scariest Doctor Who episode of all time.
Moffat chose fantastically well by playing on something that has happened to most of us; waking abruptly with the sense that you’re not alone; creaks and groans of a building around you making you simply question. Moffat’s story sets up the suspense beautifully from the Doctor’s opening monologue with the moving chalk to the repeating scenes of children and the elderly waking in the night with that sense of not being alone, and the terrifying image of the hand “slithering” out from under the bed to grab at an ankle. And the suspense just continued to build.
I loved, loved, the scene with the Doctor and the children’s home’s night caretaker (Robert Goodman). There was just a fantastic creepiness; the coffee going missing, the rumpled state of the caretaker, the dark lighting, the flickering telly…all set in the gloomy atmosphere of an institution.It culminated in the scary figure of the shape covered by the coverlet. Was it another child or was it something else hiding under the blanket? The fact that the question is never answered makes it all the more frightening. Just as we don’t see what enters the spaceship when the Doctor unlocks the door.
I also loved the symbolism of the soldier figurine without a gun that was threaded through the story from the moment Clara gives it to young Rupert to guard under his bed, through to Danny’s descendent (and possibly Clara’s) Orson Pink taking it with him as a talisman, to the moment where Clara gives it to a young boy who will become the Doctor…it’s a great touch.
Additionally, on my ‘Worked Really, Really, Well’ (WRRW) list is the Clara and Danny dating subplot. Coleman and Anderson act out awkward young daters to great effect. The fact that the whole thing isn’t just added on (as in “Into the Dalek” [35.02]) but actually plays a part in the adventure – by having Clara’s distraction with it provide the TARDIS with coordinates based around Danny – is well done. As is the resolution, with Clara in the adventure thread realizing they need to move past the fear and nerves, and putting it to good use when she kisses Danny.
Anderson is doing a good job of setting up a very likeable guy (loved the head on table thing which he also did in his previous outing) and did a credible job pulling double duty as Orson. If I have a criticism it’s probably that Moffat does seem to set up male characters as too soft in comparison to his strong-willed women. Amy definitely wore the trousers in the Ponds’ relationship, for all Rory gained more backbone and grit during his tenure in the TARDIS. Even the Doctor sometimes walked a fine line with River Song, and here, a stunningly attractive Clara (I had so much dress envy) is definitely calling the shots with Danny.
But topping the WRRW list this week was the outstanding moment when the TARDIS went back to the Doctor’s childhood. That the scene, which demonstrates just why the Doctor potentially focused on the subject in the first place, is played out in the barn where the Doctor would return to make the hardest decision of his life, is sentimental and enthralling and a fantastic nod in both visual and dialogue to “The Day of the Doctor” (50th Anniversary Special) and to Clara’s role as the Impossible Girl.
For me, that the episode never truly answers the question of whether something is there when we are supposedly alone; that it suggests our constant companion is simply fear but doesn’t confirm it…it makes the episode. Capaldi has settled in nicely and while Coleman definitely anchored the story this week, it all still came back to the Doctor in the end. The best episode of Capaldi’s era so far.
— Rachel Day
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